I've been thinking about the nature of privacy a lot lately. I've long been associated with issues of preserving privacy. I helped with anti-Clipper Chip activism in the early 90s and supported various efforts to free cryptography such as PGP and other tools built with RSAREF from export control. However, my efforts in these areas wasn't really focused on privacy -- instead my focus was on issues of trust. I've always tried to be precise here.
A blog on social software, collaboration, trust, security, privacy, and internet tools by Christopher Allen.
As I'm studying social network software right now, I consider it my job to try many of the hundred some odd social networks out there right now. I just joined Zero Degrees, and like many others, it asked me to upload my address book. I've done this before and usually it just finds those who already have joined these networks and links us together. Typically I delete my address book at this point, and don't bother to invite contacts that are not already members of that particular network.
While I've been out attending the SXSW Music, Movie and Interactive Conference there has been a flurry of high-quality postings about Social Networking. Unlike many of my fellow bloggers, I find it difficult to post meaningful blogs while I'm on the road. It has been my policy in my own blog postings to also be "high-signal, low-noise", so normally I don't just post links without solid additional commentary, however, I'm making an exception this time because of the quality and depth of these entries.
Lately I've been noticing the spread of a meme regarding "Dunbar's Number" of 150 that I believe is misunderstanding of his ideas. The Science of Dunbar's Number Dunbar is an anthropologist at the University College of London, who wrote a paper on Co-Evolution Of Neocortex Size, Group Size And Language In Humans where he hypothesizes: ... there is a cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships, that this limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size, and that this in turn limits group size .
I spent most of last week at the RSA Conference in San Francisco. Like last year, I found little that excited me. I overheard from a convention staffer that they had 30% more attendees, so the conference is growing again, but my week there also reinforced my opinions regarding the industry as a whole as I describe in my previous blog posting The Bad Business of Fear. I asked a number of random people what they thought of the conference.
As I head out next week to the RSA Conference I realized that it has been 13 years since I attended the first one. I remember fondly the potential and power of cryptography technology in 1991 -- public keys, digital certificates, new possibilities for privacy, digital cash, etc. After 8 more years I left the compujter security industry on March 15, 1999. The computer security industry also seemed to be filled with as much potential as it did back in 1991.
While at eTech, I attended a number of "social software" sessions. One thing I heard was a persistent call from folk like Marc Canter for all the vendors to support something called FOAF. FOAF is a standard for "Friend of a Friend" files, and is an attempt to make machine readable information about people, groups, companies, and other online resources. In particular, it is focused on representing the information that you might typically put on your personal home page in a form such that meta-data tools can interpret it.
I have now had CEOs of three different social networks send me emails asking me to compare Orkut to their service. I've not had a chance to dig deeply into good answers for each specific one, but I did have some general advice that I wanted to offer given my recent experiences with Orkut.com, and my evaluation and followup on various social networking services in December. Privacy First, be extremely careful about privacy issues.
I've not just been spending time looking at social networking services, I've also been digging deeper into wiki. I've still got more to go, but some of these will be of interest to you if you are considering implementing a wiki for your community, or if you are a wiki developer. Zwiki is based on Zope, and thus has a very interesting feature set. One of the more popular features is the topic mappings that it creates.
Another Orkut user and I have confirmed a privacy hole in Orkut whenever you send a message to someone via Orkut. For instance, whenever I send a message to anyone in the system that is forwarded by email, in the message headers it will read: From: "Christopher Allen" <firstname.lastname@example.org> Reply-To: "Christopher Allen" <email@example.com; When someone reads the message in their email software, the "From:" line will be my name but the fake email of <member@orkut.
Like many others, I've been paying attention to Orkut in the last couple of weeks. I've answered more requests to be "friends" on Orkut then I have of any of the other half-dozen Social Networking Services I've tried, and I've looking at other people's friends to see if I know anyone. I've yet to ask someone to join Orkut that wasn't already a member, and I've been careful to not have anyone as a "friend" that I didn't know reasonably well and I thought knew me.
In the last few weeks I've gotten more invitations to friends via Orkut then I have from all the other social networks I've tried out. I currently have 61 friends there (and they are all people I know reasonably well), whereas in several months I have only 50 connections in LinkedIn. Oddly, the number of friends I have in each of these is less the older they are. In Ryze I have 36, and in Tribe.
For the last few weeks I've been moving my blog from Blogger Pro over to the TypePad service, after a frustrating try to get WordPress to work. While I was at it, I moved my blog from my business server to this new domain. I finally have it all working here now, but all of my old permalinks are broken. In progress is a utility that will redirect people from the old permalinks to the new.
At a recent unofficial gathering of Future Salon'ers, there was a discussion about a demonstration of four robots doing a japanese fan dance to music (I think it was seen at CES in Las Vegas last week). The remark was that it was vaguely disturbing because your intellect knows that they are just robots, but someplace deep in your brain you know that they are alive because of the way that they move.
I've been working today on understand the Design Pattern Language behind the Wiki concept. I've been making some postings at the Meatball Wiki site on this topic. These are the new topics that I have finished today. Category of Wiki Design Patterns Pattern: Cheap and Easy Collaboration Pattern: Simple Text Formatting Pattern: Character Formatting Rules Pattern: Paragraph Formatting Rules Wiki Design Patterns Meta Commentary I've also been doing a survey of the features of various versions of Wiki that have evolved over the years, and have started posting some of them at the bottom of the pattern documents.
Joi Ito's Web: Blogger's block, collapsing facets and the number 150 offers some insights on two different topics: The first is on the nature of identity when we write in our blogs:"The depth of my identity is becoming shallow because the context has collapsed."I have a lot of sympathy with this but from a slightly different perspective -- I have so many different 'identities' of who and what I am and what I'm interested in that it makes it hard for a stranger to be able to understand me if I try to cover it in one blog.
Shannon Appelcline's "Trials, Triumphs & Trivialities" column in the Skotos Articles section recently featured a trilogy of articles about stretching the bounds of socialization in online games: Social Gaming Interactions, Part One: A History of Form The first article outlines the problem by looking out how social interaction has traditionally been handled in online games, and by considering how limiting these interactions typically have been. It also outlines how to expand traditional social interactions by describing three main categories of social interaction: competition, cooperation, and freeform.
I've received a number of replies and pointers after posting my Evaluating Social Network Services here last Tuesday. Here are a few: Invite Issues Esther Dyson writes in her blog about invite issues for her favorite social networking service in Some Comments on LinkedIn:I am getting a lot of invitations from people I don't know. It would be great to have a button that says "See inviter's profile" that links directly from the confirm-or decline-invitation page.
InfoWorld has an article by Ephraim Schwartz called "Social Networking Targets the Enterprise" that says that corporations are looking to use social networking service features in their CRM (customer relationship management) software. They mention a couple of companies that will be offering this, Contact Network, Interface Software, Spoke Software, and ZeroDegrees.For example, the ZeroDegrees dashboard would allow a person in furniture sales to be alerted when a large company leases more space or places ads for employees, thus indicating expansion and the need to furnish new office space, said Jas Dhillon, CEO of ZeroDegrees.
The Social Software Weblog discusses DragonVenture Invests in Social Networking Platform in China:"If you think Friendster was slow with four million members imagine if a tens of millions, or hundreds of millions, of the two billion people in China join eFriendsnet.com! Why hasn't Friendster or Tribe.net launched international sites?!"This reminds of a quote I heard this last weekend from Tom Melcher, former CNET exec, and who has recently left There to live and work in China:There are now more people in China on the Internet then there are members of the Chinese Communist Party.